Rocco Baldelli has done a good job of deferring discussion about what the Twins will do during the postseason, in part because he knows that once he answers that first question, he’d be opening the floodgates for 1,000 more.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t be pondering them from the outside.
We were sitting in the stands last week during one of the Twins-White Sox games (the really long one) trying to figure out what the Twins should do in terms of setting their pitching staff. Given the pitching problems that night, it was a grumpy discussion.
The lesson: Don’t talk about a pitcher when he’s getting knocked around or a batter when he’s slumping. These things will pass, at least with the good ones, and what you really need to worry about is an unexpectedly bad performance by a player or four upon whom you’re relying for an extender October run.
With those thoughts on the table, here are five things to consider about the Twins as they stand on the verge of clinching the AL Central title.
The starting rotation: That was an easier question before Michael Pineda’s drug suspension and the drooping work on Kyle Gibson and Martin Perez. A cynic could argue that the latter two shouldn’t have a spot on the roster. But that’s not likely to happen. Here’s one idea:
Game 1: Jake Odorizzi, Game 2: Jose Berrios, Game 3 Randy Dobnak, Game 4: Perez, Game 5: Odorizzi.
The Twins will have four days off between the end of the regular season and the opening of the American League Divisional Series a week from Friday. That’s ample time to juggle the staff as desired. The big Game 1 question is Odorizzi vs. Berrios, which also feeds the secondary question of who you would start if the series went to a Game 5.
You can make the case for Odorizzi based on his back-to-back starts against the Astros and Yankees early in the season when he outdueled Justin Verlander at Target Field and then held the Yankees to two hits in six innings in New York. (He also got smacked around badly by the Yankees at Target Field in July.) Berrios brings a strong first four months of the season to the debate, followed by a 7.57 ERA in August and two weak starts out of four so far in September.
It’s a close call and probably calls for a deeper data dive than we have time for right now. The one who doesn’t start the opener gets Game 2.
Games 3 and 4 are the bigger riddles. The Twins could approach those as potential bullpen games, but with an eye toward getting as much as they can out of the starters. Are Perez and Dobnak the best options, or would go with one (or two) others who’d be on the roster? The game-definer will be that being the starting pitcher is no guarantee of being the pitcher who throws most of the game.
But wait. Do you take a risk and throw inexperienced Brusdar Graterol’s 100 m.p.h. fastballs in the first inning of one of those games and then come back with Perez or Dobnak?
That leads to a bigger question: How many pitchers and who should they be?
Here’s a look at a possible 12-man staff: Berrios, Odorizzi, Perez, Dobnak, Kyle Gibson, Taylor Rogers, Tyler Duffey, Sergio Romo, Trevor May, Zack Littell, Devin Smeltzer and Brusdar Graterol.
Or is Cody Stashak the 12th pitcher? Or Lewis Thorpe, if you want another lefty?
Or do you gamble by going with 11 pitchers, knowing there are off days after Game 2 and Game 4? If so, who misses the cut?
What about 13 pitchers? If you need 13 pitchers for a five-game series, you probably shouldn't be in the playoffs.
From there, let’s go to non-pitching questions:
Let’s start with the extra outfielder, with the assumption that Max Kepler will be healthy enough to return to center field. Would you take Jake Cave or LaMonte Wade Jr. as the fourth outfielder. Cave has been in that role for much of the last two seasons, shuttling between Minnesota and Rochester more often than desirable. Wade was a midseason call-up, hurt his wrist and has made a late-season surge to create the debate.
In some ways, the numbers are comparable: Batting, average, on-base-percentage. In others, they aren’t. Cave has struck out about one-third of the time this season while Wade currently has four strikeouts (and 10 walks) in 41 at-bats. Both can play anywhere in the outfield and both are fast.
I did a “Twitter poll” on my feed and Cave won, getting 55% of the 117 votes cast.
Yeah, it’s a close call.
What about the rest of the roster?
With 12 pitchers, you get 13 players:
That’s Eddie Rosario, Kepler, Marwin Gonzalez and Cave/Wade Jr. in the outfield.
Miguel Sano, Jorge Polanco, Luis Arraez, Jonathan Schoop and C.J. Cron in the infield, for sure.
Mitch Garver and Jason Castro catching
Nelson Cruz at DH.
That’s 12. Is your 13th player Willians Astudillo or Ehire Adrianza, if he’s healthy.
Or do you go with 11 pitcher and take them both?
Or do you have an even better idea?
Finally, there’s the question of whether you’d rather play the Yankees or Houston, who are fighting for the best record in the American League. The winner of that duel will play the wild-card survivor. The other team will play the Twins. So do you want to face the Yankees, who have won 10 playoff games in a row against the Twins and 13 of 15 dating back to 2003, in addition to their regular-season dominance? (Temper those numbers with the fact that their pitching staff, much like Minnesota's, is in a state of disrepair.) Or would you prefer the Astros, who have three fearsome starters in their rotation but only a 3-4 record against the Twins this season?
I can kill too much time debating with myself on that. So you figure it out.